Heavy rains in southern Brazil are likely to make food prices soar

The state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s largest rice producer, is severely devastated by recent floods

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
More than 70% of Rio Grande do Sul's cities and towns have been affected by the unprecedented rain that hit the state in recent days - © Anselmo Cunha / AFP

The flood catastrophe in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul is already having an impact on food prices there and has sparked debate about the consequences of the climate crisis on food costs. Reports from people who live in the areas affected denounce cases of abusive charges in supermarkets. Nationally, the production chain is already saying that the price of rice could rise. 

Rio Grande do Sul is the country's largest rice producer. The region grows, harvests and sells more than all other Brazilian states combined. With the heavy rains, a considerable part of the plantations has been lost.

Even so, it's not possible to measure the scale of the damage, according to the Instituto Rio Grandense do Arroz (Irga, in Portuguese). When the rains began last week, the state had already harvested more than 80% of the crop. However, there were still 150,000 hectares of active plantations, and warehouses were also affected. 

The National Supply Company (Conab, in Portuguese) adopts the same line. “The heavy rains that hit the Rio Grande do Sul state will have an impact on the state's agricultural production, but it is still too early to make any predictions about numbers and their influence on supply and prices,” the company said in a statement to Brasil de Fato.

Julia Catão Dias, an expert in the Sustainable Consumption Program at the Institute for Consumer Protection (Idec, in Portuguese), says that an upward trend is usually the most common path for food prices in disaster situations. She warns, however, that this scenario requires a more detailed analysis of the role of production chain practices. 

“It's important for consumers to know that, yes, climate disasters will have an impact on food prices, which is why action is urgently needed. But we have to be aware of how this fuss is used by some forces, which are precisely the forces responsible for producing this whole situation.”

She highlights the role the agribusiness production model plays in the catastrophes caused by global warming and points out that the most affected party is family farming, which grows most of the food that goes to the tables of Brazilian families. 

“Often, the worry that food prices are going to rise rapidly is used by the agribusiness sector to call for more exemptions, more funding and to say that agribusiness needs a bailout. But in reality, it's family farming that needs help – not least to make it possible to find a way out of this climate emergency we're experiencing.”

The climate tragedy affecting the population of Rio Grande do Sul is a dramatic and radical example of the relationship between food insecurity and environmental devastation. However, the impact of global warming on food prices is already a global reality. 

“When we talk about climate disasters, we are talking about this imbalance caused on the planet by hegemonic models of production and consumption by capitalism. The choice of these models of production and consumption is causing a series of socio-environmental destructions,” says Julia Catão Dias.

In recent years, the United Nations has issued successive warnings on the subject. The most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) point to damage to various food production systems. On the other hand, large areas planted with commodities are less affected. 

That’s also the perception of the World Economic Forum. In its 2024 Global Risks report, the organization points out that global warming affects marine and terrestrial systems with direct consequences for food security.

Edited by: Thalita Pires